Football's Cultural Pivot


Chad Brown spent ten years on the football sidelines chasing the same ideal that haunts every coach - the perfect culture. Now, as the CEO of Profile, Brown has come to realize how impossible that pursuit was.

Why? Because the very culture of football is broken.

The sport has chugged along for decades without changing, clinging to the same clichés - ‘next man up,’ ‘first one in the office,’ ‘last to leave,’ - and ways of doing things.

But the world has changed. People have changed, and maybe, above all else, athletes have changed. Time and again, as Profile meets with and provides its behavioral assessment tools, the disconnect between what athletes need to succeed and how football is bred to succeed is evident. The assembly line mentality that every person is merely a replaceable cog and the idea that the quantity of time must be greater than the quality of time actually run counterintuitive to creating the culture coaches say they desperately want.

And yet, the sport remains stuck, unable, and even afraid to embrace a new way of doing things.

Changing it requires not just forward thinkers but people who come into the business of football from a completely different perspective. It will take an army to pivot the entire sport, but an army of one can make a difference. At the University of Wisconsin, Monique Felix is the foot soldier. She is not going to singlehandedly revolutionize a sport that has long clung to its way of doing things. But she is slowly opening others’ eyes to a new approach in one place - the University of Wisconsin.

Felix is the director of football student services for the Badgers, where she’s charged with helping athletes with both their academic and career pursuits. A former student-athlete whose own career ended due to injury, she got into college sports administration because she sought to provide that which she didn’t have - people who valued who she was rather than what she could do.

“I wanted to be that person for someone that I didn’t necessarily have in my life,’’ says Felix, who adds that guiding someone through struggle is what motivates her the most professionally. “The nurturer in me wants to provide and be their rock.”

Transitioning into a post-playing career, however, Felix found that her own experience was more the norm than the exception, especially when she moved into football. For both coaches and players, every second of every day is poured into the sport - recruiting calls and texts, position meetings, playbook prep, lift , practice, fi lm - yet barely any of it is carved out for people. The driving force remains the very old-school notion that any second not devoted to doing the work of football takes away from the success of football. There has, over the years, been evidence to the contrary. Steve Spurrier fashioned a highwire, championship-winning offense at Florida while still carving out plenty of time to hit the links.

But old ways die hard, which is what makes Felix’s efforts to innovate so intriguing. Hired away from Baylor in March 2023, Felix began plotting how to best serve her new athletes during Wisconsin’s summer Badger Academy. She spitballed ideas with colleagues, trying to come up with what they thought might be the best programming. “And then we stopped and thought, ‘We’ve been here less than a month,’’ she says. “Instead of doing what we think would be good for the guys, let’s see what the guys want.’’ A quick six-question survey yielded really unexpected results. Of the 118 players surveyed, more than 70 percent wanted help with their confidence and leadership.

It was not at all what she expected, nor what most people would expect, more than likely when considering the football player who sits at the top of the college sports food chain.

Felix thought perhaps the timing of the questionnaire had something to do with the results. The players were surveyed in the spring when they were just returning to workouts after a bit of a break. Their bodies weren’t quite as in tune, their minds not as sharp as in season. Transfers also had arrived to start the spring semester and were finding their way, while returning players faced the daunting task of cementing or expanding their roles. But Felix also saw a real need that would help the players at the micro level, which, in turn, would also benefit Wisconsin football at the macro level.

Even better, she knew she had the perfect tool to get her where she needed to go.

Over the course of her own competitive life, Felix has taken countless assessment tests. She figures the first was way back in 2016. They’ve helped her better understand herself and how she’s perceived while simultaneously opening her eyes to understanding others more completely. She liked Profile especially because it was comprehensive yet easy to digest, and she believed that the streamlined nature would be especially critical in converting football skeptics already crunched for time.

Felix brought the assessment to her players at 8 o’clock on a June morning. More than a few players grumbled their displeasure about the exercise. “Don’t label me” and “Don’t put me in a box,’’ were among the common complaints. One new player voiced his skepticism especially loudly, so much so that Felix questioned how she might work with him going forward. Felix brought him in to review his results two weeks later. It put in plain English exactly how he behaved - that he can be especially vocal in expressing his dissatisfaction as well as his criticisms of others. He still wasn’t buying it, grudgingly listening as Felix went through the information.

Th ree days later, he came by her office, amazed at how accurately the assessment portrayed him. He also told Felix it made him understand why he butts heads with coaches sometimes and how he could work on his own behavior to better his relationships with others. Felix was astonished but also giddy, able to see in one player a way her idea might manifest into real change at Wisconsin.

So much of football is numbers driven - how fast can a player run, how much can he lift , what’s his recruiting ranking. It matters, but it doesn’t consider how a person is wired. Football, maybe more than any sport, never really cared how a person was wired. What a player thought or understood didn’t matter, only how he performed.

But that’s not really how college sports work anymore, nor is it the best path to success. The idea of meeting a person where they are, understanding how they are motivated, and how to best communicate with them is really common sense. It just wasn’t that common on the football field.

Using Profile, Felix argues, offers two keys for crafting a successful culture: improved self-awareness and better dialogue.

The reality is people don’t like to hear about their flaws. Self-awareness requires a willingness to open yourself to vulnerability - a word not often used in football offices. Felix gets it. She knows from personal experience how uncomfortable it is to consider your weaknesses. Profile confirmed what she knew about herself, even if she didn’t necessarily love to hear it. She sets high standards for herself and, therefore, can lose her patience when things don’t go the way she perceives they ought to. That often means she can be overly critical or demonstrate body language that can easily be misinterpreted. But affirming that about herself allowed Felix to figure out how to off set her natural tendencies - smile a little more, take a step back, and accept that not everything is as perfect as she’d like. In turn, she’s a better leader and better communicator.

She saw the same evolution with the football player who initially gave her grief about taking the assessments in the first place. When he really embraced the results, he could also see how his behavior might hold him back. He’s now one of the first to greet Felix with a genuine hello when they cross paths on campus.

Such self-awareness, Felix believes, can help athletes discover the very confidence that the Wisconsin players said they sought in their survey. Understanding how you operate as a person allows you to grow. “Talent alone can only get you so far. So often you hear of people who reach a plateau,’’ she says. “If you understand your wiring, once you as an individual are more self-aware, that plateau isn’t a thing anymore. You won’t level off as much.’’

Equally important, Felix is steadfast in her belief that Profile helps create better dialogue and understanding, which, in turn, can build a foundation for success in football. To be fair, coaches’ complaints of limited hours in the day are valid. With the advent of NIL and the portal, they are pulled in even more directions than before and have less and less time to do the simple things - like talk. More often than not, a position coach will welcome a transfer into a meeting following a whirlwind recruiting tour, the two spending 48 hours in each other’s company at best. Yet that coach is expected to get the most out of the player, to instill in him the confidence to succeed. “Just being able to cut through the smoke allows you to find the people and the players who will be an asset,’’ Felix says.

Having gone through a full season, Felix is focusing now on how to streamline her use of Profile even more. There’s a good deal of information to process. Felix would rather meet with players periodically to discuss one aspect of their assessment - their communication, for example - and allow them time to digest what they’ve learned before moving on to the next segment.

Seeing others succeed gives Felix real joy. When a friend recently landed her first freelance photography gig, Felix says that gave her more happiness than accomplishing something herself. So watching the Wisconsin football players come to a better understanding of themselves and grab hold of that confidence they all said they needed has only reinforced her determination to cultivate real change within the offices. She knows as a woman, she is an unlikely agent of change in such a male-dominated field. Then again, a different perspective might just be what the sport needs most.

“I think it can change,’’ Felix says. “But there has to be someone to pave the way. Right now, people are paralyzed by the fear of taking a weekend off, convinced their opponents are out there working, even though that’s an illusion. No one wants to be the first person to do things differently, but someone has to be.’’